Monday, January 16, 2012

Random Shots: The Wrong People Are Making Sense

  • Here is a backhanded compliment for Keen and Syncaine: every once in a while, those two actually write something worth reading. Today was such a day. What makes this so auspicious is that they are both making an argument to which I am becoming more sympathetic.

  • Both have long bemoaned the downward spiral MMO development has followed ever since companies have started chasing the World of Warcraft audience. Both Keen and Syncaine, each in their own way, are shaking their fists at the shortsightedness of developers. Keen thinks that copycat MMOs have to launch fully featured or face comparison against their template game. Syncaine thinks that developers are spending too much time building content and not enough time providing tools for the player base to become the content.

  • When I find myself agreeing with two bloggers whom I often disagree with, and both on the same day, it is time to take notice.

  • There has to be a change. There can't be enough potential players in the world to sustain a new MMO releasing and converting to free-to-play every three to six months. Eventually even the free-to-play space will be saturated with WoW-alikes. Unless someone takes a chance and builds something different, something sustainable, MMO churn is all we will have. At least, until the whole system comes crashing down.

  • In a way, I'm hoping that Star Wars: The Old Republic burns out sooner rather than later just to hasten the eventual collapse. Until companies stop throwing so much money into copycat MMOs, there will be no room for innovation.

  • Maybe the collapse will take the genre out entirely. Maybe MMOs will go the way of the roguelike instead. If that is the future, then I will welcome it. If big companies can do it right, maybe we have to take the genre away from them and do it for ourselves.

© 2012 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.


  1. Makes me hope that Blizzard themselves are the ones that make the change. With Titan.

    Still no information released about it.. so I can still hope its not theme park WoW 2.0 with only a new IP.

    Other games (GW2, The Secret World, Wildstar) all look more or less formulaic.

  2. I don't see anything as dramatic as a crash of the genre happening. Honestly, it's not just MMOs, it is games in general that are stagnating overall, and it is because of the cost involved in making them now. Just like with films, the risk versus reward has gotten too high for most studios to really try something new. The voice acting, cinematics, and just overall increase in graphical detail have all pushed game development budgets much higher over the years, while game prices have generally stayed the same. That's why there's a recent trend in Indie games getting popular because that's where the innovation and experimentation is happening.

    What I imagine happening though, is studios seeing what's popular in the Indie game scene and then buying those small studios or just copying the designs and incorporating them. It's not too different from how movies work today.

  3. The two big budget MMOs we have on the horizon, GW II and Secret World/ World of Darkness (I get them mixed up), do look like fairly innovative products to me. GW II especially will be one to watch. Conventional wisdom is that putting a big budget behind an unconventional game design is risky. I'll be very interested to see how that works out.

  4. It would help if "innovation" weren't the sort of silly design choice I see in SWTOR. MMOs really can't be about dev stories, that's not playing to the strengths of the genre. Neither is a long level grind followed by a new game of raiding.

    I do wish we'd see more indie MMO development. There are some titles out there like Three Rings' Puzzle Pirates, LOVE and Golemizer, but the dev budgets are too high to play in the WoW mold. That's a good thing ultimately, as it helps foster honest innovation, but it does limit sales when that's all that the big MMO media outlets seem to think MMOs can be.